September 28, 2022

Forensic source-fingerprinting of sediment-degraded aquatic habitats using eDNA

eDNA forensics for pollution tracking

Excess fine-grained sediment and associated organic matter loadings are pervasive in aquatic habitats globally as a result of land use and climate change. Reducing the sediment-associated environmental footprint of intensive farming in agricultural landscapes is particularly challenging. Recent estimates suggest that across England and Wales, excess sediment loss to rivers, in exceedance of modern (pre-World War II) background rates, from agriculture amounts to between 1.03 to 1.38 M tonnes yr-1, generating environmental damage costs of between £462M to £523M. Generation of reliable sediment source information in complex agricultural landscapes where sediment problems are acutely manifest is critical for targeting improved management strategies. Here, forensic approaches comparing the fingerprints of landscape sources and sediment and associated organic matter reaching aquatic habitats offer appreciable potential for addressing the evidence gap, but conventional forensic signatures are compromised by several key challenges including their sediment source discriminatory power in the context of current heterogenous land use and crop rotations. This studentship will therefore test eDNA signatures at laboratory, field and landscape scales to explore their potential for advancing current forensic methods for assembling much needed sediment source information for tackling the sediment problem.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental Science, Geography, Biology, Botany or Natural Sciences. Experience of fieldwork within agricultural landscapes and of writing computer code (e.g., R statistics) would be advantageous.

For further details please contact Prof Adrian Collins (